Watching your child leave home for university overseas comes with a rollercoaster of emotions. We feel pride in their achievements and excitement for what lies ahead, but there’s also an acute sense of loss, even pain, that they are moving on without us.
Having lived a life that revolved around my son since the day he was born, the transition from full-time homemaker to empty-nester would have been a very traumatic experience, had I not anticipated what was coming. I recognized the need to take preventive action, to face my fears, find a new purpose in life, and overcome my need to be needed. What started out as a pathway of trepidation turned into a journey of self-discovery, with some valuable lessons on how to navigate this stage of life as a parent.
It is a natural response to distract yourself until reality hits you hard. Instead, if we can be proactive and plan ahead for the challenges which are inevitable, we can deal with them more effectively when the time comes. Try to start thinking a year or two in advance about what you want your life to look like when your child has left home and you’re living in an empty nest. You do not need to define an ultimate goal, simply start with a change of mindset around approaching daily life.
Acknowledge your own achievement
While it’s impossible to alleviate the sense of loss we feel when a child leaves home, recognizing your role in their achievements may offer some comfort. If your child is prepared for the challenges of independent living overseas, it is a testament to your parenting and the opportunities you have provided. Remember, no matter how much you would want them to miss you, you would never want them to come running back home. No parent would want their child to miss out on the chance to build a successful future.
Find a new purpose
As human beings, we thrive when we have a purpose in life and for many parents their child is that purpose. When you lose that purpose, you will also lose some sense of identity, triggering low motivation and poor self-esteem. To move forward, it’s critical to find a new purpose in your life. Use your extra time to take up hobbies, try new things; see what stick and learn to enjoy your newfound free time and independence.
Find groups where you can connect with other parents living in an empty nest. This brings a number of benefits, from combatting loneliness and sharing coping strategies, to providing new outlets for meeting new people and taking up new activities.
Take one day at a time
Fear, pain and loneliness can breed a sense of overwhelm that has a crippling effect on both physical and mental well-being. While you’re working on finding your new purpose, there will be bad days and good days along the way. Approach each new day as one step further to reaching your final destination.
Meet like-minded people
There is a comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your feelings, and this is one situation where you will never be by yourself. Find groups where you can connect with other parents living in an empty nest. This brings a number of benefits, from combatting loneliness and sharing coping strategies, to providing new outlets for meeting new people and taking up new activities. We have always thrived when we build a community.
Whether we are preparing ourselves for the empty nest or we are in it and in a stage where we cannot cope, we don’t have to do this alone, help is available. While our brain's pain inhibitors are effective in managing physical pain, they create challenges when it comes to emotional pain. Emotional pain can trigger defense mechanisms affecting our mental wellbeing, which can impact every aspect of our daily lives and relationships.
Processing emotional pain often requires conscious effort, and it is a skill that can be learned and developed over time. Ultimately, acknowledging and addressing emotional pain is an essential step towards emotional well-being and personal growth. This will in turn allow you to enjoy your newfound freedom and the extra time you have acquired.
My own fears of an empty nest led me on a transformational journey of further education, professional practice, and now entrepreneurship. The fear changed into fulfillment and finding a new purpose that is both personally and professionally rewarding.
Sarmistha Mitra is the founder and CEO of The Wellbeing Sanctuary, a centre that provides an array of holistic healing approaches. From hypnotherapy to transpersonal regression therapy, chakra balancing, theta healing, and dream interpretation, The Wellbeing Sanctuary strives to restore equilibrium on physical, spiritual, and emotional levels, fostering optimal health through natural means.